Leslie Joannides-Burgos and Boston Age Strong Commission’s Age Friendly Director Andrea Burns discuss Brookline Bank’s Age Friendly Training and Elder Financial Fraud in an interview hosted by Seven Letter’s Ann Murphy.



Podcast Transcript:

Ann Murphy: Leslie – The training of all Brookline Bank branch team members on how to better serve elder customers was quite an accomplishment.  Can you tell us why the bank wanted to include all office locations for this training?

Leslie Joannides-Burgos: We had one branch that had taken the course a couple of years ago and they spoke of how rewarding the training experience was for them and how it made a difference in their interactions with their customers. Andrea had reached out to our West Roxbury Branch, the only branch certified, to do a presentation on how they assist customers based on their training. During the pandemic, my team was doing a lot of outreach to our clients, and we decided that it makes sense for all of our colleagues to go through this training. During the pandemic, a lot of our older customers weren’t leaving their homes, and we were seeing fraud and different things happening to them. It really makes sense to help the team in their communications with their customers.  We trained 170 colleagues at Brookline Bank who went through the training.

Andrea Burns: Not every business has been able to train their front-facing staff so this was a very significant accomplishment (for Brookline Bank.)

Ann Murphy: Andrea – The issue of Elder Fraud is one that we keep hearing about and one that we all need to pay attention to for ourselves and for our elder friends and relatives. Can you give us some examples of Elder Fraud and what we should be looking for?

Andrea Burns: Brookline Bank is already doing a very good job mainly because of their deep relationships they have with their customers, and because so many older adults are patronizing brick and mortar businesses. I think Brookline Bank is well-positioned because of the deep ties they have with their community.  What Brookline Bank was able to do during the pandemic was  great like going to someone’s house and picking up a deposit, so that is the level of attention that the Bank was already employing.  That is really important. Having those relationships and getting to know the customers so you can notice when something is out of line with what that customer’s behavior has normally been.

In Massachusetts, there are some trends and top kids of scams and fraud types. There’s about $27.5million lost in Massachusetts due to fraud, so that is quite a lot for this state alone, though we do rank 29th in the country.  

Here are the top scams in Massachusetts:

  1. Imposter scams
  2. Identity theft
  3. Online shopping scams
  4. Telephone and mobile service scams
  5. Banks
  6. Lenders

Having that level of attention to notice when someone’s behavior is different, and I know you already have a lot in place at the Bank already that triggers and flags the transactions and go back to the customers and say, “this is what we noticed, did you mean to charge this.”  

Ann Murphy: Leslie – If one of your older customers or their family members suspects fraudulent activity going on with their accounts, what should they do?

Leslie Joannides-Burgos: First thing, they need to bring the concern to our attention and depending on their situation we may engage the assistance of local police or report our suspicions to the state’s elder abuse line. It’s really important that no one is made to feel embarrassed or ashamed if they are a victim. We are here to help them and time is of the essence. The faster we are alerted, the higher the probability that we will be able to recover funds. One of the big scams out there is the grandparents scam. The fraudsters will call and disguise their voices and cry on the phone and act hysterical, and like any grandparent, they want to do whatever they can to help their grandchild. The fraudsters tell the victim not to mention it to anyone. They are good at isolating the victims. The training that Andrea did with the team, teaching us to watch the customers mannerisms and other things, have really helped us communicate and save the customers money and recover their money. But what you always want to do is stop it before the money goes out the door, because it is hard to recoup it. 

Ann Murphy: Andrea – What does the term “Age Friendly” mean and how does Boston Age Strong Commission work to make the city a more Age-Friendly place for older adults? 

Andrea Burns: Our Age Strong Commission is involved in so many things:  Constituent services, health insurance, SNAP benefits and neighborhood issues.  We have a communications team that puts out a magazine for citizens. We have a nutrition department that puts out information about Meals on Wheels. We have a housing unit because housing is one of the most foundational needs of individuals.  My office is looking at the services, the structures, the policies and the protocols that allow people to age well and to not only survive but to thrive in the City of Boston. We have an age and dementia friendly business certification that the Bank has participated in. We have invested in benches throughout the city to allow people to have independence to go from place to place and participate in their neighborhood. We have done a series of cooking classes, we’ve looked at things like increasing the amount you can work off your property taxes, we have done a civic academy to teach people about civic engagement. Age-friendly comes out of the World Health Organization which helps people look at their cities and assess and figure out what needs to change in order to prepare for the increase in the older adult population that is happening worldwide.   

Ann Murphy: Leslie – Brookline Bank has done a lot to accommodate older clients, can you describe some of the things that you provide for them that help them manage their banking needs?

Leslie Joannides-Burgos:  Brookline Bank has made Aira free for our clients which provides step-by-step guidance for visually impaired clients with the use of a smart phone. Our ATMs are both braille and speech enabled. All our lobbies are handicap accessible from entering our lobbies to using our check-writing stands or accessing our teller services.  We also have a dedicated team of phone center colleagues who assist our customers with both account assistance and technical assistance with online banking. One of the things we learned during the pandemic is that we had a huge population of clients who had never used mobile and online banking. Our customers are now so much more informed daily because of their adoption of online banking. They can find out what their balance is, what has cleared their account and if something doesn’t look right, they will pick up the phone and talk to us. Every day we learn something new and we try to make adjustments to figure out what can we do next to continue the progress and make things better for our clients. We give them security and peace of mind of knowing that they can do their banking this way (online) but they can still reach out to trusted advisors at the bank.  

Ann Murphy: Andrea – How do people find out more about Boston Age Strong Commission and all the programs you have to offer?

Andrea Burns:  They can go to our website https://www.boston.gov/departments/age-strong-commission and call our main number 617-635-4366  to get connected. A new program starting soon is called Money Smarts and there is an aspect in it about fraud. People can sign up for a workshop and training. Banks play such a significant role because of the level of social isolation we are seeing in Boston, in Massachusetts and beyond and that is partially why older adults are so vulnerable to these frauds and scams. First of all, they do answer their phones, they tend to be quite trusting, they might be socially isolated, they might be experiencing cognitive decline, they may have experienced loss in their lives which may increase their vulnerability.  Many people still want to go to the bank because it’s social and what they have always done before and they know how to do it. It is wonderful that so many more people are becoming digitally literate and going online, but I think people will still want to go into the bank because of the support provided there. The vulnerability of older adults can be lessened by settings like the bank and community settings where people are paying attention.